I have come again with my observations of Nigerian life, what can I say? It is these observations and thoughts that seem to keep me mentally connected to that place I call home. It is instructive to note that in some point of time in the past and I guess culturally, the upbringing of a child or youth was not only the job of his parents but also of the society as a whole. This is fairly common across all Nigerian and I daresay African cultures. Over time of course, as our cultures changed it became less the responsibility of the society or community to raise the child and the onus fell upon the parents. One thing remain unchanged in this shift of responsibility, the expectation of society and the accompanying pressure on parents who of course want to be proud of their children but also want to look good in the lens of society.
The corollary to that is, Nigerians for the most part are very concerned with what others in their community or society think of them. This collective policing of morals and behavior which is enforced by the “what will people think” mentality has resulted in a keeping up appearances look to most Nigerian life. This is evident in the larger than life attitude of most Nigerians, our collective love of ostentation even when in reality we are spending our last penny. I have heard of people borrow money to have big owambe (for those unfamiliar with the term, owambe is a yoruba word for party and is usually accompanied by lots of food, music and women wearing satellite dishes and their heads and even grandmas shaking bum bum and going low).
Time over time, we have proven to be a nation that loves to live beyond its means. We have an overpaid legislature, a bloated government, foreign and domestic debt off the richter, people living well beyond what their salaries should pay for etc. We are also a nation that also likes to gloss over problems, have you heard some Nigerians describe Nigeria to people who have never been? You would think it was land flowing with milk and honey bereft of any problems. I am not advocating for giving someone wishing to visit your country the worst news about it, I am just asking you to be objective with people, give them the good and not so good sides of the country. Make it sound like a real place not a blood fairy kingdom. This behavior of glossing over our problems is all part of trying to impress our community, in the larger sense Nigerians try to impress others in the community of nations, in the smaller sense parents and families try to impress others in the society by stressing their children’s achievements and glossing over their problems. This has led to the development of what I would like to term the Growing up in Nigeria format.
The Growing up in Nigeria format is sort of a benchmark of how good your child is doing. Keep in mind for most people in Nigeria, the term child or youth is applicable to a person until they get married. The growing up in Nigeria format might have changed over time and from generation to generation but for the most part the format is in place to ensure that the child does not bring “shame” to his/her family. It is like a generally accepted pathway on how your child should be raised and how to teleguide his/her life until marriage. It all ties up to what society expects from people and children and how parents try to enforce these expectations in order to be seen as responsible parents so to say.
The format is the reason why some people are studying medicine when they know that they never really wanted to be doctors in the first place. The format is the reason why certain artistic leanings were discourage in children who were deemed to be science students. It is the reason for a myopic and one track education system that does not feel the need to ensure every Nigerian has an in depth knowledge of their own history. The format is the reason for so many Nigerian Engineers, Architects, Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants, basically everyone is in a professional field, So who is going to research our history? Thats a lecture for another day. The format is part of the reason for corruption. Communities expect their son’s and daughters to give back and parents and extended families expect their grown up children to take care of them in their old age even if it is beyond their means. The format is the reason why some women are running around like headless chickens looking for husbands. The format is the reason why people in diaspora are searching for Nigerian husband/wife. It the reason some Nigerians feel they can only marry people from a certain ethnic group or the other. The format is the reason many youth will rather chase after a comfortable job than take the great risk of starting their own business. The format is why some people persist in going to church or mosque when they clearly do not enjoy it or feel anything when they do. The format is why an irreligious person is looked upon as a madman. I am sure you can think up of many other examples.
I guess you want to know what the format looks like. Well I am only familiar with a certain version. Although I am sure that one common thing to the format is that it almost always involves marriage or if you are not inclined to do so join the clergy. The eternal bachelor or spinster is highly frowned upon. So is being gay, which apart from guaranteeing no grandchildren for the parents is not welcomed by religion apparently. If Hugh Hefner were a Nigerian, people might call him agbaya behind his back or that useless old man wey dey play with young girls but no fit find wife (pidgin english meaning big baby who be messing around with young ladies but cant find a wife). The format starts very early in primary/elementary school where for the most part extra curriculars are not well organized unless you went to some pretty good school. Free time outside of school is spent doing extra lessons for school so that you can place first amongst your peers academically. The occasional leisure is thrown in of course but education is the cornerstone of your life and the parents try to make you finish primary school earlier than you should so they can brag to their friends about what a prodigy their son is. Eventually finishing primary school early became quite the norm hence its inclusion in the format. Never mind the child might not be psychologically developed enough for secondary school you send him there anyway. The question of day or boarding school highly affects your experience. I know of boarding school. It is the time you develop your character for the most part and at the same time your parents do not fully know the person you are turning into and have handed over the upbringing of their child to strangers. That being said, during secondary school a lot of parents influence the choice of arts or sciences for their children. They tend to be more comfortable when the child picks either arts or sciences and has an aspiration to be something professional. After secondary school, go to university, study what you are expected to study, dont come back with a degree in music like Fela. Graduate from school and either go to NYSC or go for masters like all the other folk are doing, why? Is it because you genuinely want to learn more or you have a passion for research, not really. Because Masters have become the new Bachelors for those who can afford it. Go to NYSC and get posted to a place your parents have influence if they have any or at least you have some aunty there. Finish NYSC, get a comfortable job with at least a steady salary, find a nice girl preferably from your ethnic group who is a “good” girl and goes to church/mosque and is very religious marry her and give your parents grandchildren and proceed to repeat the format on them.
There you have it folk, your whole life planned as part of a cog in the big cycle of life. What led me to write this was that I was thinking about it and realized that many of the people I know in my age group are doing very similar things and I found it amazing that those who strayed too far from a certain path were looked at as people with little or no prospects for a bright future. Is this what this syncretism of western and African values has brought us? Of course I know that there are some who have charted their own path but much like a person waking up in the matrix, I wonder. Is it really your own path or was this path pre-determined as well by societal pressure. Is there room for free thinking in our culture pervaded by the format? What is the format to you? Are there things you feel pressured by society to do that you do not want to do?
Lets find ourselves and express ourselves with originality.